After I purchased an audio course named “The Secret Lives of Words” it was sent to me by mail. Unfortunately the package was stolen off my porch. Fortunately a Good Samaritan found the opened parcel eight blocks away and was kind enough to bring it back to me with this note: “Clearly the thief was not interested in higher learning.” I feel sorry for that person not interested in the pleasure of learning about words that has given me so much joy for many years. Digging into the past and present of words, besides being as entertaining as gossiping, is an excellent method of improving our vocabulary.
The method, fun and interesting, requires that every time we find an unfamiliar term that we research everything possible about it particularly its history. It is called Not Leaving a Word Behind. It does not require the scientific aspect of etymology, it is fun, interesting and accessible to everybody.
For instance, I just came across an article about the mosquito being the most dangerous animal on earth; a killer responsible for millions of deaths yearly for thousands of years. Of the more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes created, nobody knows why, by the Intelligent Designer the most infamous are the Aedes, responsible for the yellow fever and the Anopheles that carries the malaria microbe. How the entomologists came up with those names? Well in Greek hedos means pleasure, for that reason hedos gave us the word hedonism. How it went from hedos to edes I do not know but they arrived at the name of that unpleasant beast by naming it A-edes which means non-edes therefore distasteful,not a pleasure at all.
You will be delighted to know that the word aedeagus, found right next to Aedes in the Websters Unabridged is defined very chastely as the intromittent organ of a male insect. Since male mosquitoes do not bite I suspected that the said intromission apparatus was not for feeding but was located at a different end of the male mosquito. I found the word intromittent defined less euphemistically as adapted for or functioning in intromission – used of the copulatory organ of an animal. Although we human beings are animals intromittent is not ever applied to that appendage of our masculine bodies. Instead in medical terminology it is referred to as priapus and names conditions such as priapism and priapitis. The name is due to the Roman and Greek god Priapus who was represented with a gigantic aedeagus which makes priapus an eponym more often than not inappropriate. Nevertheless for medical uses a diagnostic of intromittentism or intromittentitis would be cumbersome and not sufficiently scientific-sounding so let the good doctors continue to use priapus.
But what about the Anopheles? In this monsters case the word chosen was opheles that means advantage, help. Preceded by An that means no, it becomes no-advantage. Because if you are attacked by a loaded Anopheles you will have no advantage and will need lots of help.
In looking for Anopheles in the dictionary I came across the nearby term ophelimity a word that means helpful or useful but do not bother to try to remember it because is totally useless. I resent that Shakespeare neglected to use ophelimity in Hamlet therefore making it forever useless.
Last in this mosquito trajectory is the word canape. While you probably have eaten canapes even while sitting on a canape, it is possible that you do not know that a canape was originally a couch with a canopy. Canape comes from the Latin canapeum, a mosquito net. Those Romans so inclined to reclining on couches eating delicacies took the name from the Greek konopeon. As you know, those Greeks have a language that is Greek for the rest of us and gave the mosquitoes a weird name, konops. However it was the French who named those appetizers canapes which is not logical at all while it does make sense that the English word canopy came from canapeum.